Release Date: June 23rd 2014
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Hope in Front of Me
- More Than You Think I Am
- Tell Your Heart to Beat Again
- Better Than Gold
- One Life
- This is What it Means
- Love Will Take You Places
- Take it To The Limit
- Pretty Beautiful
- Because of You
- It’s Not Over
‘…I wanted to mix hope and entertainment but not in a way that would be cliché or sappy. I want to deliver a message that feeds the soul, but makes you want to move and groove to the music. That’s always the goal when I write. I’m a person of faith, so I always want my songs to have a strong message of hope. I want to write them in a way that is fresh. ‘Hope In Front of Me’ has got a great message, but it’s also got a great groove to the song so you are moving and your soul is getting fed while you are singing and jamming to the music…’ Danny Gokey. American Idol finalist. Christian (and Country) singer/songwriter. Initially on the talent show competition out of the urging of his late wife Sophia, Danny’s story of a broken man who had lost his wife before her time touched the souls, hearts and minds of many watchers of American Idol around the nation and around the world.
A former church music director from Milwaukee, Wisconsin; this 3rd place finalist in the 8th season of the reality program has crafted a poignant and powerful album in Hope in Front of Me, a CCM/country record that attempts to break down the barrier between the two seemingly divided and rivalled genres that seem to be just as popular as each other in the American music hometown of Nashville, Tennessee (where most CCM and country artists settle and record their music). From the first single and title track “Hope in Front of Me” to the electronic anthem “One Life” to the vulnerable and autobiographical “This is What it Means”; Danny’s most personal album yet is one of the standout albums in June 2014, and a great album to purchase if you love similar artists like Mark Schultz, Jonathan Thulin or Phil Stacey.
Starting off the album with title track “Hope in Front of Me”, Danny’s enthusiasm, emotion, pain, hope, encouragement and urgency is felt all through the song as he reminds us all that there is hope even in the darkest points in our lives when we believe there is none. With light electronic distorted vocals, powerful acoustic guitars and a looping percussion that brings the song’s radio accessibility to light, we are met with poignant lyrical moments in the words of how ‘…there’s hope in front of me, there’s a light I still see it, there’s a hand still holding me even when I don’t believe it…’, reminding us of the necessity of us to feel hope that fuels us on in our daily work with God and our fellow man.
A great way to start off the album, the song that was arguably one of my favourite songs by Danny is also the first song I had heard from him back when his single debuted earlier in 2014. Vocally reminding me of artists like Phil Stacey and Matthew West, it is evident of Danny’s country and CCM influence, and while country music as a whole may not necessarily be as widely accepted in the Christian music circle as other forms of music, Danny’s music will nevertheless speak to and inspire us, especially in the life affirming and comforting words of how ‘…I might be down but I’m not dead, there’s better days still up ahead, even after all I’ve seen, there’s hope in front of me…’ Well done Danny for such a great start to Hope in Front of Me.
The promotional single from the album, “Love Will Take You Places” is one of the most seeker-sensitive melodies that also is one of the most poignant, emotive and God-breathed, as all references of God or Jesus are substituted with ‘love’. As we know that God is love, we are able to make the connection, that God ‘…will stand in the place of the one who’s guilty, gives a voice to those who can’t speak, take a bullet, take the fall…’, while those who hear the song who may not necessarily be Christians will hopefully ponder ‘what kind of love can do that?’ as the song becomes a catalyst for them to think about this and other deeper issues. With a big anthemic sound that encompasses powerful keyboards, light percussion, big drum beats, Danny’s enthusiastic voice and a whole sense of big-band when the chorus comes around; “Love Will Take You Places” is a testament of God’s love, and the love we have for each other (either romantic, between friends or family), as the love felt for each is a mirror of God’s love to us, considering we were made in His image.
“Because of You” is electronic dance music galore as Danny sings about his relationship, either with God or his loved ones, as we see a personal moment in how ‘…it’s like the stars in the sky even shine a little brighter…because of You…I’m awake, I’m alive, held inside Your love forever, the good keeps getting better…’ in a song that will make fans of electronic music jump and dance on their feet. While at times it can seem that Danny uses more autotune than necessary (not just in this song but throughout the album as a whole), his unique ability to create songs that impacts listeners of both Christian and mainstream music ought to be congratulated.
Danny also expands musically in both “Better Than Gold” and “Take it To the Limit”, songs that were definitely influenced by 1950s motown music (R&B, soul, funk); and both songs that give us a glimpse into Danny singing something other than singing about Christianity or even to God. “Better than Gold” was sung about Danny’s wife (and can probably be sung by each of us who are in relationships); while “Take It To the Limit” encourages us to do our best in our lives, as we ‘…break through everything that’s been holding you…let this feeling take you beyond the moon…’ With layered vocals, finger clicks, a steady electric guitar sound and some swinging beats, both these melodies are great throwbacks to the time period in which motown was birthed and was popular.
Also delving into themes about living the one life we have been given with all the enthusiasm we’ve got (the Anthem Lights-esque electronic keyboard themed “One Life”), speaking out the promises from God to us that what we experience does not mean that our lives are over the way we know it (“It’s Not Over”) – complete with ohhh sounds that make me reminisce about something Israel Houghton would sing; and starting over after a tragedy (the piano led “Tell Your Heart to Beat Again”, based on Danny’s resolve to carry on with life after his first wife’s passing); it is “More Than You Think I Am” and “This is What it Means” that have become some of my most enjoyed songs on the album (alongside “Love Will Take You Places” and “Hope in Front of Me”).
“This is What it Means” starts off with a stringed introduction worthy enough to be even placed in an auditorium as Danny sings about what it means to be alive- to feel hope, pain, hurt, comfort, emotion, bitterness, even love, lost love and a new perspective borne out of loss as we witness one of the most vulnerable songs written for Hope in Front of Me. With light keyboards, the song comes to life with soaring vocals, vulnerable lyrics and pulsating drums, and as we hear Danny cry out how ‘…sometimes the joy can give you wings to fly, sometimes the pain cuts your soul just like a knife, there’s fear, there’s faith, there’s loss, there’s grace…this is what it means to be alive…’, we can hopefully grab onto a similar positive outlook that Danny has, even after all his hurt, loss and pain he has experienced. As we hear possibly the song that’ll be the most accepted on Christian radio in “More Than You Think I Am”, we hear Danny sing from God’s perspective, and with a nice addition of whistling in various spots on the song, Danny unveils a theme of God’s omnipresence and how our pictures of God is vastly expanded by God’s own definition of Himself and what we experience of Him in our lives currently.
With the eye-opening chorus of “More Than You Think I Am” that reminds us all that ‘…be still and trust my plan, I’m more than you think I am…’ being a great way to be showered with God’s love, the song has quickly become one of my favourite songs by Danny, with Hope In Front of Me one of my favourite albums over the last few months so far. While not necessarily as breathtaking as Michael W. Smith’s Sovereign, as musically different as MercyMe’s Welcome to the New, acoustically and lyrically genius as Jason Gray’s Love Will Have the Final Word, or as pop and bouncy as Franny’s If We’re Honest; the album is still nevertheless great for listeners who are longing for a theme of hope in their lives right at this moment. An album that’s certain to be a best seller in both Christian and mainstream markets, Danny’s album could be the next album after needtobreathe’s Rivers in the Wasteland to impact both industries. Well done Danny for such a poignant, powerful and prolific album, and one of my favourite CCM/country artists since Jason Crabb.
3 songs to listen to: Love Will Take You Places, Hope in Front of Me, More Than You Think I Am
RIYL: Jason Crabb, Phil Stacey, Matthew West, Mark Schultz, Jonathan Thulin